The dinosaurs in Jurassic World gobbled up at least 22 hapless park attendees. The villains from teen-centric films Divergent: Allegiant and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials go through victims as if they had expiration dates printed on their foreheads. In Mad Max: Fury Road, much of the world’s dystopian populace is vaporized in exploding clouds of petrol. Los Angeles and San Francisco both pretty much collapse in San Andreas; if you find yourself in that movie and you’re not named Dwayne Johnson, you could be in trouble.
We’ve not yet bested the 7 billion death toll that Roland Emmerich reached in 2012 (released, oddly, in 2009). But hey, we’ve yet to see Star Wars: The Force Unleashed—part of a franchise known for obliterating whole planets. So we’ve still got time.
Yep, there’s a reason they’re called “extras.”
But in the midst of all these bloody blockbusters, a handful of films are suggesting that human life shouldn’t be discarded like candy wrappers. And no matter who or what or where we are, we’re worth saving.
The 33, which comes out on November 13, chronicles the real-life rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly a half-mile underneath the earth. The movie suggests these sorts of accidents aren’t all that uncommon: Mining is dangerous work, and the mine’s supervisor tells a governmental bigwig that he’s seen more than his fair share of tragedy in his 25 years on the job. “Do you know how many men we’ve saved?” he tells a governmental bigwig. “No one!”
Some of the trapped miners are equally gloomy. “Nobody’s going to hear us!” one says. “Nobody’s going to help us!” And indeed, their plight seems hopeless. To rescue them would require entirely new feats of engineering, unimaginable stores of cash, and maybe more time than the miners have.
But a determined few—the miners’ families, the rescue workers, and one passionate government official—refuse to let the mine or the Chilean government forget they’re down there. For 69 days, much of the world watches spellbound as the rescue trundles on to its improbably happy ending. And before miner Mario Sepúlveda leaves the cramped confines of the mine, he scrawls a final message on the wall: “God was with us.”
If 69 days seems like a long time waiting for rescue, imagine the plight of Mark Watley in The Martian. Instead of being locked under the earth for a few months, Mark’s 140 million miles away from it—stranded on a hunk of previously lifeless rock.
Using the supplies and equipment left behind, his own ingenuity and a little bit of his own poop, the astronaut finds a way to stay alive long enough to be discovered.
“At some point, everything's gonna go south on you and you're going to say, this is it. This is how I end,” Mark says later. “Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
But he needs some outside help, too: He needs to be rescued. And rescue missions to Mars don’t come cheap.
But when earth-bound officials discover Mark is alive and, at least, mostly well, there’s no question what they have to do. They have to figure out a way to get back to Mars in time to save their stranded botanist—no matter the cost, no matter the effort. Scientists and engineers work countless hours of overtime as the price of the rescue mission rises ever upward. Partnerships between space-faring rivals, unimaginable before now, suddenly blossom. Mark’s shipmates—still on their way home—opt to stay on the job for nearly another year and a half to slingshot around the earth and try to save their friend.
In Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, U2 pilot Francis Powers and American student Frederic Pryor are locked behind an Iron Curtain, not stranded on a faraway planet. But they might be even harder to rescue, given the chilly state of the Cold War in 1960. The U.S. Government very much wants to get Powers home before he starts divulging any super-sensitive secrets. It would be great to get Pryor home too, of course. But the United States is fighting a (cold) war—and in any war, there are bound to be casualties.
And yet, James Donovan, a one-time insurance lawyer who’s been tasked with negotiating Powers’ release, refuses to accept that one life—no matter how information is locked away in his noggin—is worth more than another.
“Every person matters,” Donovan says. And he works tirelessly—and risks the whole mission—to save not one, but both Americans.
Every person matters, it’s true. But how much do they matter? How much are they worth? How much are you and I worth?
Oddly enough, there’s kind of an answer to that question. The human body is worth around $160, if you break it down into its simple elements, according to DataGenetics. If we’re parceled out by parts on the black market, we’re worth significantly more. When the governmental agencies calculate what’s reasonable to spend for a given life-saving technology, they all calculate the value of a human life somewhat differently: The Environmental Protection Agency says $9.1 million, the Transportation Department, $6 million.
But when you look at many 21st-century blockbusters, you could be forgiven in thinking that a single human life isn’t worth much, given the staggering number snuffed out on screen. Killing fictional characters doesn’t cost the director or the studio anything, really: Only the audience has to pay.
But in God’s calculus, life is precious. Priceless. We are worth enough to God that He moved the cosmos for us, that He sacrificed his Son.
As Christians, we’re told that every person matters—now matter how unimportant we are, no matter what sorts of pickles we get ourselves into. And this fall, we have a handful of movies that remind us of that.
Paul Asay is a movie critic for Plugged Inand has written for a variety of websites and publications, including Time, The Washington Post and Beliefnet.com. He’s authored or co-authored several books, including most recently Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet. You can follow Paul on Twitter (@AsayPaul), read his blog, visit his website, or just think nice, happy thoughts about him in your spare time.